When guys such as Alice Cooper, Freddie Mercury and David Bowie first painted their faces with makeup and teased their hair to impressive new heights, few could have imagined that the fringe “glitter rock” trend would end up becoming mainstream.
By the ’80s, however, rock ’n’ roll was defined by excessive hair spray and tight leather pants. From Quiet Riot to Twisted Sister, the squealing electric guitars of these glamorous rockers served as the alternative to the growing electronic beats of mainstream ’80s pop radio.
More than two decades later, most of that era’s most prominent rockers are remembered more for their hit songs than any ongoing musical influence. Still, when “Here I Go Again” (Whitesnake) or “Sister Christian” (Night Ranger) comes on the radio, even those who were not alive for the heyday of those songs succumb to the urge to sing into their hairbrush microphone or hold an impromptu dance party.
It’s glam metal’s enduring legacy that led to the creation and wild success of the Broadway musical “Rock of Ages,” coming to the North Charleston Performing Arts Center tonight and Friday.
Premiering in July 2005 at the King King club on Los Angeles’ Hollywood Boulevard, at the heart of the Sunset Strip-based musical’s setting, “Rock of Ages” jumped to New York in 2008 and opened on Broadway in April 2009.
It garnered five Tony nominations that year, including Best Musical, helping spawn spin-off productions in Toronto, Australia and an ongoing run in London that began in September 2011. Likewise, a touring production that began in 2010 continues to make its way around the nation.
“I’m blown away that I’ve been doing this for a year now,” said Dominique Scott, the actor and singer in the touring ensemble’s lead role of Drew. “It’s interesting though; Dom (himself) and Drew are so similar. If someone were to write a show about Dom, it would be ‘Rock of Ages.’ ”
After earning a theater degree at Syracuse University, Scott moved to New York to pursue his dream.
Between recording with his band, Domin8trx, and bussing tables at a restaurant in Times Square to make ends meet, Scott continued to act and audition for major roles. But his life changed when he landed the starring gig in the “Rock of Ages” national tour.
Scott’s tale and the “Rock of Ages” plot line have close parallels.
In the musical, set in 1987, Drew Boley works at a Hollywood club, the Bourbon Room, as a busboy. He meets a girl, Sherrie Christian, fresh off the bus from Kansas in search of fame as a singer.
From there, the show uses songs such as “We’re Not Gonna Take It” (Twisted Sister) and “Every Rose Has Its Thorn” (Poison) to spin the interweaving tale of the Bourbon Room’s efforts to remain in business, under pressure from developers and city government, underscored by Drew and Sherrie’s romance and quests for musical careers.
At one point, Drew submits to being in a boy band, while Sherrie takes a job as a stripper.
Although Scott never stooped to those levels, he has had to make sacrifices for his career. The touring production puts on eight shows each week, a challenge for even the most gifted and disciplined singers.
“You learn to pace yourself,” Scott said. “I travel with two humidifiers to make sure my vocal cords are moist, and I’ve got my preferred lozenges. I generally don’t drink alcohol at all, and I can’t talk too loud after the show.”
One might think that the guys in Judas Priest or Quiet Riot might smirk at that responsible retelling of their wild lifestyles, but many of the bands whose songs are featured have attended the musical and offered positive reviews.
Members of Styx, Ratt, Poison and Journey have made appearances at the Broadway show.
“Rock of Ages” got another boost of attention when the musical was turned into a film with an all-star cast. Released in June, the cast featured Tom Cruise as Stacee Jaxx, the moody, unpredictable rock-’n’-roll icon and singer of fictional rock band Arsenal. In the film, like the musical, the actors sing their own vocals, including Russell Brand, Alec Baldwin, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Julianne Hough.
Attendees of the musical who have seen the film will be surprised by some of the dramatic, and a few subtle, differences in the story line. Although the soundtrack remains much the same, characters and key points in the film plot were altered significantly from the musical’s depiction.
“I think the stage version is funnier and more charming,” Scott said. “ ‘Rock of Ages’ has never been known for its plot; essentially, it’s an excuse for a big rock concert. There’s the boy-falls-in-love-with-girl, loses-girl, goes-after-girl plot, and a subplot where a German developer wants to kick rock ’n’ roll out off the Sunset Strip, but the focal point is the music.”
The film and stage version include homosexual undertones between various characters, although the musical’s rendering is more subtle than the full-blown make-out session that erupts between Baldwin and Brand during “Can’t Fight This Feeling” (REO Speedwagon) in the film.
“When you see our Lonny and Dennis do it (the Bourbon Room characters who discover their hidden affections for one another), you’re seeing two straight guys have this bromance,” explains Scott. “They’re like the furthest away from what you’d ever think of homosexuals being like; out of shape, hairy, beer drinking guys, and they’re having this super bromance. That’s where the comedy lies.”
With the combined pressure of performing 300 shows each year and giving originality to a storyline many viewers may already have some familiarity with, thanks to the film, Scott said that the cast works to alter their performances each night.
He compares the interaction between characters on stage to a game of tennis, where any shot could be straight down the middle or unpredictably off to the side.
“You’re always fine-tuning and discovering new moments you can polish to make better,” he said. “With a movie, you’re going for the one perfect choice of how to play a character. With a theater, there are better choices, but not always a consistent best choice. In order to enjoy doing something night after night, you have to always go out with a fresh face and try something new.”
At this stage in the tour, Scott said his favorite song to perform is “High Enough” by Styx.
“It’s by far the hardest song in the show, to sing in that upper range for an extended period of time,” Scott explains. “It can be a burden if your voice is hurting, but recently I’ve been on fire and loving singing that song.”
The film and musical culminate with “Don’t Stop Believin’,” the epic ballad by Journey, although the story’s conclusion and the circumstances behind the characters singing the song are dramatically different between the stage and screen.
Although Scott is contracted to perform with “Rock of Ages” through 2013, he said he’ll probably look for something outside of the glam rock genre for his next role.
“I’ll listen to all of these songs again, but it might take 30 years,” he laughs. “But part of the reason that ‘Rock of Ages’ is so successful is because these songs are just so darn popular. I didn’t realize that until I was in the show, but now every time I’m in a Subway or a Target, these songs seem to follow me around. ‘The Final Countdown’ (Europe), ‘The Search is Over’ (Survivor) and ‘To Be With You’ (Mr. Big); these songs are everywhere.”